Bipartisanship in a Polarized Age: The U.S. Congress and Foreign Policy Sanctions
36 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2015
Date Written: January 21, 2015
Rising partisanship and ideological polarization are defining features of contemporary American politics, but relatively little attention has been given to how this growing polarization and partisanship are affecting U.S. foreign policy making. I argue that foreign policy bipartisanship still occurs with some frequency because many foreign policy issues do not break down along partisan ideological lines, and lawmakers of both parties tend to see the world differently than the president. I apply my argument to the issue of foreign policy sanctions – an issue on which Congressional Republicans and Democrats often favor highly punitive measures that are resisted by the president. My analysis of three recent major U.S. sanctions debates shows that bipartisan majorities in Congress have driven the enactment of strict human rights and nonproliferation sanctions concerning Russia and Iran, and have nearly succeeded in sanctioning China for its currency policies – even though the president has resisted these laws and bills in whole or in significant part. The analysis demonstrates that foreign policy bipartisanship remains alive; that Congress remains capable of challenging the president successfully on important foreign policy issues; and that congressional activism on sanctions issues is motivated not only by interest group pressure, but also by ideational differences in the foreign policy approaches of lawmakers and the president.
Keywords: bipartisanship, sanctions, human rights, nonproliferation, currency, foreign policy
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